Nonviolent Resistance a global History 1830-2000

Week 16. Reading week Week 17. Burma 1988-90 and China 1989

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Week 16. Reading week

Week 17. Burma 1988-90 and China 1989

The pro-democracy movements in Burma 1988-90 and China 1989 are the subject this week. Both ended in brutal repression and failure, and the question will be asked why this was so. Did the protestors make fatal tactical errors? A DVD will be shown of China in 1989.

One person to present each of these two topics.
Core reading:

  • Kurt Schock, Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies, chapter 4, pp. 91-119.

Some questions to consider:

  • In Burma, what were the main strategies of protest deployed against the regime in 1988?

  • What was the role of Buddhist monks in Burma?

  • Why was the military junta in Burma able to ignore the adverse election results of 1990 with impunity?

  • Analyse the reasons for (a) the size of the protest in China in April-June 1989, and (b) why it was crushed so quickly and effectively.

  • To what extent was the fact that both of these movements were student-led a weakness?

  • Do the examples of Burma and China reveal certain limits to theorizations by Gene Sharp and others about the efficacy of nonviolent resistance?



  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of student-led nonviolent movements?

  • Are there successful cases of such student-led movements, and, if so, how have they succeeded?

Further reading:


  • Aung San Suu Kyi, Freedom from Fear: And Other Writings

  • Aung San Suu Kyi; conversations with Alan Clements. The voice of hope

  • Aung San Suu Kyi, Letters from Burma

  • Aurélie Andrieux, Diana Sarosi, Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, Speaking Truth to Power: The Methods of Nonviolent Struggle in Burma. Full text available on:

  • Michael Beer, ‘Violent and Nonviolent Struggle in Burma: Is a Unified Strategy Workable?’ in S. Zunes, L. Kurtz and S. Asher, Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, Blackwell 1999.

  • Vincent Boudreau, Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia, Chs.4 and 9 on Burma

  • Alexander Dukalskis, ‘Stateness Problems or Regime Unification? Explaining Obstacles to Democractization in Burma/Myanmar’, Democrtization, 16, 2009, pp. 945-968.

  • Christina Fink, Living Silence: Burma under Military Rule (London 2001).

  • James Guyot, ‘Myanmar in 1990: The Unconsummated Elections’, Asian Survey, 31, 1991, pp. 205-11.

  • Bertil Lintner, Outrage: Burma’s Struggle for Democracy (Hong Kong 1989).

  • Bruce Mathews, ‘Buddhism under a Military regimen: The Iron Heel in Burma,’ Asian Survey, 33, 1993, pp. 408-23.

  • Maung Mya, ‘The Burma Road from the Union of Burma to Myanmar,’ Asian Survey, 30, 1990, pp. 602-24.

  • Maung Mya, Totalitarianism in Burma: Prospects for Economic Devlopment (New York 1992).

  • Andrew Seith, ‘The Armed Forces and Military Rule in Burma’, in R. Rotberg (ed.), Burma: Prospects for a Democractic Future (Washington, 1988).

  • Joseph Silverstein, Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation. Published in 1977, before the democracy movement

  • David Steinberg, The Future of Burma: Crisis and Choice in Myanmar

  • Whitney Stewart, Aung San Suu Kyi: Fearless voice of Burma, Minneapolis 2005.

  • Ralph Summy, ‘Nonviolence and the Case of the Extremely Ruthless Opponent’, Global Change, Peace and Security, 6, 1994.

  • Robert H. Taylor, ‘Change in Burma: Political Demands and Military Power’, Asian Affairs, 22, 1991.


  • Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, pp. 342-43.

  • Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, pp.421-27.

  • Timothy Brook, Quelling the People: The Military Suppression of the Beijing Democracy Movement

  • Timothy Brook and B. Michael Frolic (eds.), Civil society in China

  • Han Minzhu [pseud] (ed.), Cries for Democracy: Writings and Speeches from the 1989 Chinese Democracy Movement

  • Merle Goldman, Sowing the seeds of democracy in China : political reform in the Deng Xiaoping era

  • Roderick MacFarquar, The Politics of China the eras of Mao and Deng

  • Andrew J. Nathan, ‘Chinese Democracy in 1989: Continuity and Change’, Problems of Communism, 38, 1989, pp. 16-19.

  • Andrew J. Nathan and Perry Link (eds.), The Tiananmen Papers (compiled by Zhang Liang (2002)

  • Sharon Nepstad, Nonviolent Revolutions: Civil Resistance in the Late 20th Century (Oxford, USA 2011), Ch. 2.

  • Michel Oksenberg, Lawrence Sullivan, and Marc Lambert (eds.), Beijing Spring, 1989: Confrontation and Conflict: The Basic Documents

  • Joshua Paulson, ‘Uprising and repression in China, 1989’, in Gene Sharp (ed.), Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st century Potential

  • Jonathan Unger (ed.), The Pro-Democracy Protests in China

Week 18: Serbia 2000 – the Downfall of Milosevic

In the late 20th century there were some major successes for nonviolent protest. This has helped legitimise the technique. Instead of a student presentation, a film that lasts for about one hour will be shown that provides an excellent example of one such success – the nonviolent movement that led to the downfall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. It demonstrates that nonviolent resistance can be a highly potent force – however, we need to be aware of the conditions that allow for this. There will be a discussion in the second half of the seminar.

Questions for discussion:

  • How nonviolent was this movement?

  • Who supported it?

  • Who led it?

  • Was there a strategy?

  • How did outsiders react?

  • How was victory obtained, and judged to be a victory?

  • It has been argued that nonviolent resistance has become more effective in recent decades. What evidence can you see in this film that would back such an impression?

Further reading on Serbia:

  • Alan Binnendijk, ‘Power and Persuasion: Nonviolent Strategies to Influence State Security forces in Serbia (2000) and Ukraine (2004), Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 39, 2006.

  • Sarah Birch, ‘The 2000 elections in Yugoslavia: the Bulldozer revolution’, Electoral Studies, 21, 2002.

  • Dragan Bujosevic and Ivan Radovanovic, The Fall of Milosevic: The October 5th Revolution (New York 2003).

  • Matthew Collin, This is Serbia Calling: Rock ’n Roll and Belgrade’s Underground Resistance (London 2001)

  • Ivana Franovic, ‘Serbia eight years after’, in Howard Clark (ed.), People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Solidarity

  • V.P. Gagnon, The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s (New York 2004).

  • Vladimair Ilic, The Popular Movement Otpor – Between Europe and Re-traditionalization (Belgrade 2000)

  • Adam LeBor, Milosevic: A Biography (London 2003)

  • Danijela Nenadic and Nenad Belcevic, ‘Serbia – Nonviolent Struggle for Democracy: The Role of Otpor’, in Howard Clark (ed.), People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Solidarity

  • Joshua Paulson, ‘Removing the Dictator in Serbia – 1996-2000’, in Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Struggle: 20th Century Practice and 21st Century Potential, Porter Sargent, Boston, 2005, pp. 315-39.

  • Elizabeth Pond, Endgame in the Balkans: Regime Change European Style (Washington, D.C. 2006).

  • Srdja Popovic, An Analytical Overview of the Application of Gene Sharp’s Theory of Nonviolent Action in Milosevic’s Serbia (Belgrade 2001), available on

  • Louis Sell, Slobadon Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (Durham, NC, 2003).

  • Vidosav Stevanovic, Milosevic the People’s Tyrant (London 2004).

  • Mark R. Thompson and Philip Kuntz, ‘Stolen Elections: The Case of the Serbian October’, Journal of Democracy, 15, 2004.

  • United States Institute of Peace Special Report, Whither the Bulldozer? Nonviolent Revolution in the Transition to Democracy in Serbia (6th August 2001) at

Week 19. Comparative themes (1).

The exercise for this and next week will be helpful in tackling the sort of questions likely to come up in the exam.  In answering the questions, you should illustrate what you are saying with plenty of concrete historical examples.

For these two seminars, each of you should make a list of preferences for each of these topics (two this week and two next week), numbering each from 1 to 5 in preference, and give it to me either by the seminar on Friday 12 February.  In some cases, it will be a theme on which you have already written a short essay, or are about to write one. Indicate to me on the list if this is the case.   Each of you will be allocated with one of these themes, so that there will be five groups of either three or four members researching a topic. I shall send an email stating which group you are in. I want you to work co-operatively on this, and prepare a powerpoint presentation that answers the question as succinctly as possible, lasting about fifteen minutes. Each member of the group should take turns in giving the presentation, and then answer questions posed by the seminar as a whole. In answering the questions, you should illustrate what you are saying with plenty of concrete historical examples.
Theme 1

How important is it for nonviolent movements to have a commitment to nonviolence as a moral principle that must be adhered to at all costs? Is in fact their real appeal a pragmatic one – namely that they when the opponent commands the instruments of violence, opponents have to adopt a different strategy, that of mass nonviolent confrontation and protest?

Theme 2

Leadership: What is required of leadership in a nonviolent movement? What sorts of leadership do we find in different movements? How important is charismatic leadership? Is organisation more important?

Theme 3

Is nonviolent resistance an elitist strategy? Examine socialist and Marxist critiques that it works in the interests of the bourgeoisie, and other critiques that see it as being in the interests of privileged groups, such as racial elites, or the state. Are these critiques valid, or misguided?

Further reading:
Theme 1

  • L.K. Bharadwaj, ‘Principled versus pragmatic nonviolence’, Peace Review, 10:1, 1998.

  • Harry Prosch, ‘Limits to the Moral Claim in Civil Disobedience’, Ethics; an International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, 75, 1965, pp. 103-111. Republished in Joan Bondurant (ed.), Conflict: violence and nonviolence, pp. 50-61.

  • John Rawls, ‘The Justification of Civil Disobedience’, in Hugo Adam Bedau (ed.), Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice. This puts the idea of justice to the fore, defining such resistance in terms of a struggle for justice.

  • Darnell Rucker, ‘The Moral Ground of Civil Disobedience’, Ethics; an International Journal of Social, Political, and Legal Philosophy, 76, 1966, pp. 142-45. Comment on Harry Prosch. Republished in Joan Bondurant (ed.), Conflict: violence and nonviolence, Aldine Atherton, Chicago, 1971.

  • Bob Overy, Gandhi as a Political Organiser: An Analysis of Local and National Campaigns in India 1915-1922’, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, The University of Bradford, 1982. See Introduction for an argument for linking Gandhi’s morality with his pragmatic technique. For link to the Ph.D. thesis, see website link under week 19.

  • Note: the reading for theme 3 (below) provides material to argue against the case for nonviolence as a principled stand – in particular Howard Ryan and Peter Gelderloos.

Theme 2

  • Ackerman and Kruegler p. 27, and Ackerman and DuVall pp.495-97 and 503. 

  • David Garrow, ‘Martin Luther King Jr., and the Spirit of Leadership’, Journal of American History, 74, 1987, pp. 438-447.

  • Nathan Huggins, ‘Martin Luther King Jr.: Charisma and Leadership’, The Journal of American History, 74, 1987, pp. 477-81.

  • James MacGregor Burns, Leadership

  • Michael D. Mumford, Pathways to Outstanding Leadership: A Comparative Analysis of Charismatic, Ideological and Pragmatic Leadership

  • Peter G. Northouse, Leadership: Theory and Practice.

  • Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organising Tradition and the Mississippi Struggle. For the importance of organisation.

  • Look up 'leadership' in the index to Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, where there are many entries.

  • Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement, pp.19, 135-6, 144-45.

Theme 3

  • Peter Gelderloos, How Nonviolence Protects the State, South End Press, Cambridge, Mass, 2007.

  • Steven Duncan Huxley, Constitutionalist Insurgency in Finland: Finnish “Passive Resistance” against Russification as a Case of Nonmilitary Struggle in the European Resistance Tradition, see Ch.2. Passive Resistance in the European Tradition, and in particular pp. 24-5, 54-56.

  • George Lakey, ‘Nonviolence training and charges of Western imperialism: A guide for worried activists’, in Howard Clark (ed.), People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Solidarity (London 2009). A rejoinder to left-wing criticisms that nonviolence is a tool of western imperialism.

  • Howard Ryan, Critique of Nonviolent Politics, full text online:

Week 20. Comparative themes (2).

Theme 4

Radical violent wing: A number of nonviolent movements have had to coexist with groups that are fighting for the same cause in a violent manner. To what extent – if at all – does this compromise the movement and hinder its chances of success?
Theme 5

What are the conditions that enhance the possibility for success of a nonviolent movement? The literature on nonviolent resistance tends to analyse the failure of a particular movement in terms of bad strategy. However, if the social conditions are not right, can any amount of good strategy bring success? One point that you may discuss, among others, is the extent to which student and youth-based movements are weaker than movements that are rooted within other social classes.

Reading. As these two themes involve comparison of different movements, there is no specific reading for them. You should draw on examples of movements that have been covered in the module. However, for topic 5, Vincent Boudreau, Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia, provides a good comparative study of protests against different regimes in Southeast Asia that can help you to understand why some movement succeed and some fail.

Week 23. Revision session

Exam revision session in H0.43 from 10.0 to 12.0. The exact date of the exam will be fixed in the Easter vacation – it is likely to be at the end of May or early June.

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